Lisa Gilbert, CMO, IBM UK & Ireland

Lisa has been with IBM for twenty years and has held multiple marketing & comms roles around the globe.

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



Lisa has been with IBM for twenty years and has held multiple marketing & comms roles around the globe.

As the CMO of IBM UK & Ireland she is responsible leading a multidisciplinary team covering, market intelligence, brand strategy, internal & external communications, go to market strategy and execution, campaign management, digital & events and CSR.

Lisa has a proven track record of building, revitalizing and scaling marketing organizations and creating break through operating models to consistently innovate, ignite new markets and influence customer behaviours at a global scale.

Before IBM Lisa held comms roles at Hewlett-Packard and Compaq.


Creativebrief: As Chief Marketing Officer for IBM in the UK and Ireland what is your primary focus?

Lisa Gilbert : My focus is split into three areas which are crucial to build the IBM brand in the UK and Ireland. 
Developing the team is one of my main goals. I want each person to future proof their skills that will make them the best marketers they can be and ideally have a little fun along the way.

Developing and executing our strategy is top of my agenda. As a 100+ year company we are currently reinventing ourselves as a Cognitive Solutions and Cloud Platform company. My team’s goal is to bring this to life by telling emotive stories that highlight how IBM is helping our clients and the world be essential.

Finally, I’m focused on ensuring we put the client first in all our marketing, advertising and communications. To do this we have aligned our teams across industries and professions and created multi-disciplined support squads called Diamond Teams. Each Diamond Team contains experts with a specific area of marketing expertise, an industry or profession expert and a product expert. Diamond Teams focus on what we sell and who we serve.

Creativebrief: You spoke at AdWeek with the Marketing Society about being a straight-talker. Have you found that easier this side of the pond?

Lisa Gilbert : When I first took over the team it became clear that I had inherited a team of pros. Marketing professionals who understand how to partner with their sales colleagues to establish our brand and value propositions in the market and deliver leads to all our channels. What I felt was missing was the permission to just “go for it.”  Run that crazy campaign that would disrupt the market. That crazy idea only a Challenger Brand would have the guts to pull off. 

Therefore, I’ve declared our cultural mantra within the marketing organisation to be Bold and Brave. We have created our own internal campaign around it, but with any cultural shift it will take time. I know the team is already having fun with it and I’m seeing some exciting new campaigns being built which people might not expect to see from IBM. I’m also having lots of fun with it! 

Creativebrief: You talk a lot about how Cognitive Computing or AI will fundamentally transform the Marketing and Communications Profession. Can you give us a top line on the ‘cognitive era’?

Lisa Gilbert : We’ve had a number of different Era’s over the past century, from the Tabulating Systems Era to the Programmable Systems Era to the emergence of the Cognitive Computing Era. Each era has had a profoundly positively effect on our society. 

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed the establishment of a new era in computing - the age of machine learning and artificial intelligence - which we call the Cognitive Era. This is man or women working with machine to help humans do their jobs better. IBM Watson is our cognitive platform which is fundamentally transforming the relationship between humans and machines. Watson understands, reasons, learns and interacts in natural ways with humans. 

I’m often asked what is driving this new era and it is the phenomenon of data, especially unstructured data that traditional computing systems can’t understand. This is especially relevant to the world of marketing where Watson can intelligently interpret both structured and unstructured customer data to suggest smarter, contextual campaign ideas that could help a company transform customer experience and enhance brand value.

Creativebrief: You’ve also spoken recently about the need to return to marketing basics and understand the psychology that motivates consumers. Do you feel we’re reaching a digital tipping point?

Lisa Gilbert : At our core, I believe the marketing team at IBM should be storytellers who have the ability to unearth the amazing work we do across the company and package it in a way that connects with people. Not B2B buyers or B2C customers but real people who live their real lives first. To date, most of the education and training we’ve done with the team is around the art of telling great stories, emotional vs rational stories. We have a treasure trove of content to work with, it’s up to the team to turn it into stories that connect with people across a wide range of channels.   

With new cognitive technologies I believe we really are heading towards a new digital era. Now customers expect companies to REALLY know them, personalisation is key. The customer wants to get exactly what they need at the time they need it. The marketing holy grail. With the power of cognitive insight augmenting the marketing team, personalisation becomes sharper and more refined, with cognitive insights improving the quality of every interaction with the customer.

This is the future. Watson’s ability to spot connections, unearth insights in video, audio and text are just the beginning. Watson solutions are being built, used and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries.

Creativebrief: What are you doing at IBM to embed cognitive into your own marketing and comms?

Lisa Gilbert : From day one in this role I promised to get out and speak about this exact topic and I’m so proud to say that my team is currently running pilot four cognitive projects. We are using our Watson technology to help understand the massive amounts of data we have at our fingertips within the walls of our organisation [to help Employee Engagement] and outside IBM [to quickly and better understand social sentiment]. We’ve also pointed Watson toward programmatic media buying to improve the relevancy of our ads to our target markets, having Watson learn with every interaction. Last but not least, we are building our own Cognitive Bot to enhance the customer experience on our online marketplace.  

Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most in the last year?

Lisa Gilbert : I’m drawn to great stories. Stories that suck me in, and in an elegant way deliver a powerful message. As you can imagine 2016 and 2017 have been incredibly intense years with respect to events on the world stage.  I’ve seen a few brands really embrace the landscape and deliver powerful work.  

Most recently, I really liked the Heineken spots around tolerance. I believe the campaign is called Worlds Apart.   From a geeky technical stand point I really like the work Spotify did around “Thanks 2016, It’s been weird” in which they took the massive amounts of data they have to deliver insights, and put an exclamation point on what an unpredictable year 2016 was. It’s very localised which shows how data can deliver a very personalised experience. 


Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Is there a better way?

Lisa Gilbert : More and more I’m losing patience for “blah blah” talk and give more value to action. A Show vs Tell mentality. As a marketing professional I can spot being “pitched to” very quickly and I find it annoying if not offensive. If an agency wants to pitch me a concept around say, an app or a cognitive bot, create a proof of concept and show me how it works vs telling me about it on a set of power point slides. Or invest with us – design and build something small together where we can both benefit as well as take some risk. Then we can really test how we can work together.

Creativebrief: As AI rapidly becomes more of a buzzword, do companies run the risk of adopting the technology without truly understanding how to best utilise it?

Lisa Gilbert : While we are in the early days of cognitive technology we know from experience that it’s important to set guidelines for the responsible adoption and use of any technology. AI is still a nascent technology but adoption is growing exponentially. Watson will have touched 1 billion people by the end of 2017 and research by the CBI shows around 20% of British firms have already deployed practical applications of AI.

AI is evolving in a way that is making it easily accessible to get started and scale – our own Watson platform has been adopted here in the UK by large banks, telcos - equally we're seeing developers using the platform as well as many smaller companies (including start-ups). 

Companies need to experiment and understand what is best for their business and clients. Watson is now available as a series of building blocks (APIs) on the Cloud, so it’s quick and easy to get started or extend existing applications. This gives organisations a great opportunity to try different applications, to innovative and explore new areas that could provide a sustainable competitive advantage. A key recommendation is to try things out at a small scale but be ready to scale quickly if they become successful.


Creativebrief: Where do you see AI as a whole heading next?

Lisa Gilbert : In the short term, we will continue to see a rapid acceleration in the adoption of AI across businesses. However in the long term I believe we will see the very nature of how we work and live our lives change for the better. I’m personally most excited about the advances in video analysis and the understanding of objects, human emotions and activity. We are only beginning to imagine what this means for providing relevant and exciting content to consumers when and where they want it.